Stallings downplays loss of Brian Thornton

At Friday's SEC teleconference, Vanderbilt men's basketball head coach Kevin Stallings addressed a number of topics, including the transfer of center Brian Thornton to Xavier University.

Speaking for the first time Friday about the off-season transfer of center Brian Thornton to Xavier, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings downplayed the loss, saying that Thornton had lost his starting spot to freshman Julian Terrell by the end of the 2002-03 season.

"There were certainly things that Brian brought to our team that other guys didn't," said Stallings in Friday's SEC teleconference. "But there were probably some things that he brought from a negative standpoint that will benefit our team from not having. I think there were certainly some positives, and there were certainly some negatives, so I guess [whether the team will be hurt by Thornton's loss] remains to be seen.

"But we're pretty confident that Julian Terrell is going to be a good player for us."

Stallings said that finding help for his senior forward Matt Freije would be one of the keys to a successful 2003-04 season for his Commodores.

"Matt averaged about 18 or 19 a game and had a very good year," said Stallings. " I think the key for our season this year is getting him the kind of support that he needs and deserves.

"Hopefully some of our other players are making strides. They showed some signs at the end of the season. Mario Moore, Corey Smith, Julian Terrell looked like guys who will be able to take some of the offensive burden off of Matt. Hopefully some of those guys are developing at a rate where they'll be able to provide us with some consistent offensive output next year."

Asked if there was a better player in the Southeastern Conference than Freije, Stallings stopped short of anointing his 6-9 senior forward the conference's best player.

"Matt Freije's awfully good in my opinion," Stallings said. "I don't want to sit here and declare him the best player in the league, because those are the things that happen out on the floor. I did not think he was the best player last year. I think he has a chance to be one of the best players, if not the best player in the league this year-- but I'm certainly not ready to declare him the best."

Vanderbilt hopes to improve on an 11-18 record in 2002-03, the first losing season ever for Stallings as a coach or player. The Commodores return 11 scholarship players, with Thornton the only departure. Stallings said that the off-season had been one of analyzing and evaluating the things that went right and wrong last season.

"I think any time you have success, you look to try to duplicate that success and figure out the reasons why, and either maintain or repeat those things that have caused you to be successful," said Stallings. "Along those same lines, any time you don't have success, you try to evaluate what things went wrong, and try to correct those. I'm probably a little more that way than a lot of guys might be, because I don't want to stand there and watch the same things go wrong.

"I don't know if it affects your approach, as much as you just really try to rectify the things that you think caused the problems. I start with the things that I did wrong, and things that I could have done better, and then I move to my coaching staff, and of course we try to move then to the players.

Stallings also expressed hope that a 10-day trip to Spain and the Canary Islands in August would jumpstart the team as it heads into next season.

"We're really looking forward to the practices and to playing games over there. My experience with those trips in the past has been that they do a lot to develop a team in terms of togetherness and cohesiveness and developing chemistry. So we're hoping that that has a positive effect on our team and our coaches."

Stallings' one incoming freshman, Dan Cage, will not be permitted to make the trip due to the fact that the trip was scheduled in the break between summer school and fall semester.

"In order to [take freshmen] you have to do that over some kind of break," Stallings explained. "With only one incoming freshman, we chose to take ours when school was not in session, so that the trip could be longer."

The Commodores open the season Nov. 21 against Belmont in the first game inside the Bruins' new Curb Event Center. Stallings talked about the difficulty of going against his close chum in the coaching profession, Rick Byrd.

"Any time we can do something to help Rick and his program, I'm inclined to do it," Stallings said. "We're happy this is something that works well for them. You want to do good things for the good people in our business, and he's one of the good people in our business.

"Absolutely it's a tough situation. To open somebody's gym, and have it right down the street from your school, and to have them be good-- it's a tough situation. It's tough on Rick's and my relationship. Normally we are able to compare notes and have lunch and be relaxed. Any time you're forced to play a game, it changes the nature of how you conduct your relationship."

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